Father Donald Senior, CP

There are times we must stand, live out our faith in the Gospel

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Perspectives on Scripture

Aug. 14: 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jer 38:4-6, 8-10; Heb 12:1-4; Lk 12:49-53

A few days ago someone sent me an email circulating a protest against Pope Francis’ recent statement on the results of the Synod on the Family. Titled “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”) the pope’s reflection struck me as both beautiful and realistic.

He affirmed the church’s teaching about the family in a compelling way and noted the many challenges that face families in today’s world. But the signers of this complaint lamented that the pope was too lenient and that his compassion for married couples in difficult circumstances might lead to a watering down of Catholic doctrine.

Luke’s Gospel is rightly noted for portraying Jesus as a proclaimer of compassion and mercy. We think, for example, of the parable of the prodigal son or the last-minute forgiveness of the “good thief” — just two of many passages found only in Luke’s Gospel that stress Jesus’ exceptional mercy and compassion.

As the Gospel passage for this Sunday confirms, Luke also portrays Jesus in the manner of the great prophets. We hear in the first reading about Jeremiah being thrown into a pit because of his message; the fate of prophets was often difficult.

The same was true of Jesus. At a moment when opposition builds for Jesus and he is well aware of what awaits him in Jerusalem, he warns his disciples that his teaching will also be met with fierce resistance. Such resistance will not deter Jesus from his mission; “I have come to set the earth on fire!” he acclaims. Yes, Jesus’ message of justice and truth, of a call for repentance and for boundary- breaking compassion for those in need would be like a blazing flame igniting the earth.

As the Gospel narratives demonstrate, Jesus’ message is opposed by the religious authorities of his time, members of his own religious “household,” who, like the opponents of Pope Francis, protested that Jesus went too far in his outreach to sinners. The Romans, too, would be wary of this man that stirred up the crowds and challenged the assumptions of those in power.

Eventually the religious authorities and the Romans would conspire to put Jesus the prophet to death. A short time later in Luke’s Gospel, some friendly Pharisees (not all of the leaders were opposed to Jesus) warn him that Herod Antipas, the puppet king of the Romans ruling in Galilee, wanted to kill him. Jesus again speaks like a fiery prophet: “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold I cast out demons and I perform healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I accomplish my purpose. Yet I must continue on my way today, tomorrow, and the following day, for it is impossible that a prophet should die outside of Jerusalem’” (Lk 13:32-33).

We also know that when the Gospel spread throughout the Mediterranean world some families would be divided. This was especially true for women since the father, the head of the household, controlled the friendships and associations undertaken by women and slaves. Those whose hearts thrilled with the beauty of the Christian message would be opposed by those who thought the Christian message was foolishness.

We hear echoes of this in the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. The author encourages the Christian community — probably in Rome — to “persevere in running the race that lies before us” to “keep our eyes fixed on Jesus … who endured the cross … in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

For most of us, practicing our faith does not have a steep cost, even though some of our convictions as Christians run counter to the accepted ways of our contemporary society. The aggression and violence we often encounter; casual remarks that we listen to that disparage others because of the color of their skin or their religious background; the lure of pornography for so many — we can all add to the list. Like Jeremiah and Jesus — true prophets — there are times when we have to stand firm in the faith and find the courage to live out the teachings of the Gospel.


  • scripture
  • pope francis